As part of its ongoing 75th anniversary celebration, Marvel Comics brought Jim Starlin, Doug Moench, Gerry Duggan, Andy Lanning and Al Milgrom, some of the architects of the cosmic side of its universe, to New York Comic Con. Moderator and long time Marvel editor and Creative Director Bill Rosemann opened by saying how grateful he was to have been part of the rich history of Marvel Cosmic. “Joe Quesada called me up and said, ‘Hey Bill, you want to come back over?’ [from DC Comics]. At our meeting I asked, ‘What books do you want me to edit?’ With a big smile on his face, Joe said, ‘I want you to edit the Cosmic books.'”
When he had his first glimpse of Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Rosemann knew it was going to be a hit. “We said, there’s our raccoon and our tree — now the world will know just how awesome these characters are.”
Rosemann called the men on the dais “luminaries,” and thanked them for bringing Marvel Cosmic to life before running down the line so they could share their favorite cosmic memories.
Doug Moench said the talk should start with Jim Starlin, since he created the cosmic universe. “I think Jack Kirby had a little something to do with it,” Starlin said. “I brought an acid tinge to it… On just about all my characters, my motivation was to bring a book that was dying back to life. All they books I did, they gave me a warning that they could be cancelled… ‘Warlock’ got cancelled very quickly in its first run. Everyone fought me not to do that run, but that’s the guy I wanted to do, with the cool Gil Kane costume and all that. ‘Silver Surfer,’ which led to the ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ and all the other ones, that was on its last legs also… I don’t usually come back to do anything at Marvel except Thanos stories, they may look like Captain Marvel, or Warlock, or Silver Surfer, but they are really Thanos stories.”
Asked what intrigued him about Thanos, Starlin quipped, “He does the things I wouldn’t dare do or my cat would hate me. Thanos is just the vent for all the darkness everyone has in them; he relishes it, he dives into it, feet first.”
“I actually inked Jim (Starlin) on a few issues of, ‘Captain Marvel. I knew Jim, we grew up together… It was very humbling to me because I was considered such a good artist in my group ,and then I met Jim and it was so humbling. I figured, maybe I can ink him.Jim said to me that he set it up so I can ink him,'” Milgrom recollected. “I had just brought in some samples to show Roy Thomas and he said that Jim was just leaving the book and would I like to take it over? It was a good start for me, because it was a bi-monthly — I might have a chance in making a deadline. They hooked me up with Steve Englehar,t and we were all buddies… so I started drawing the book and I immediately missed the deadline and they put in a reprint. So much for bi-monthly! After that, I was fairly reliable.”
Milgrom mentioned the late, great Steve Gerber, whose name kicked off a lengthy round of applause. “I was doing the ‘Guardians,’ which was originally created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colon, who did a one issue thing and then they showed up in, ‘Marvel Team-Up’ and ‘Two-in-One.’ They were being sprinkled around the Marvel Universe, then they decided to give them their own series. They tapped Steve to write it and me to draw it. It took so long, we missed our deadline. They appeared in ‘Marvel Presents’ and they didn’t appear till the third issue… At one point, [Gerber has] got a cosmic frog with a tongue grabbing their ship, you’ve got the planet of juvenile delinquents which looks like a scene from ‘Grease’ or ‘West Side Story,” and everything was always ending in cliff hangers. I’d ask him, ‘Steve do you have any idea where this story was going?’ and he’d say, ‘Oh, no! I never do! I write it and I just have faith.’ I never did find out where he was going because he got bogged down and they put Roger Stern on it. Roger could write a concise story… but I was overcommitted. Jim laid out an issue and Howard Chaykin did another issue, but I was tightening up the pencils. It was a whole little area of Marvel where we weren’t the big shots, we were the upstarts just have fun doing this stuff.”
Turning to Doug Moench, Rosemann pointed out that he was known for his “street level work,” and asked how he made the jump from gritty realism to the cosmic side of Marvel.
“I was a great reader of science fiction, and we all get type cast. That doesn’t mean we don’t have interests in something else,” Moench replied before diving into his work on “Star-Lord.” “[Co-creator] Chris [Claremont] told me his goal was to do more of a hard sci-fi like Robert Heinlein as opposed to the more, ‘acid-tinged’ cosmic characters. So when I did, ‘Star-Lord,’ I tried to do it in that more hard sci-fi vein. But I remember one story, it sticks out in my mind because Gil Kane drew it. It was called, ‘Planet Story,’ and the planet, it was like Gaea, the planet was cosmically conscious. That was the most Heinlein thing I did.”
Asked what his favorite aspects of his Cosmic books were, Andy Lanning said, “What stands out for me here is you have to be a fan of the medium you worked in, and I grew up reading all these guys’ stories and it’s brilliant working on stories your actually a fan of. It imbues your work with an extra layer of not wanting to drop the ball, a realization you are playing with other people’s character and you have to respect the continuity. Cosmic Marvel gave you the freedom to do something. No one was micro-managing you, it gave you a great freedom. We were asking for stuff and we thought we’d never get it. We asked for the Shi’ar ,and Marvel was like, ‘Yeah!’ When we did that, when we got Thanos as well. We were amazed. We even broke the cardinal rule and brought Captain Marvel back, but not really. We were having a great deal of fun playing with all the big toys.
“When we were doing it, no one was really interested,” Lanning continued. “The last big successful book was the ‘Guardians’ book of the 90s,” Roesmann added. Lanning agreed and said, “Jim’s last ‘Thanos’ stuff as well, but no one did cosmic stuff for a few years. So we had creative freedom to do whatever we wanted to do… we had characters that weren’t appearing in multiple titles, so people weren’t really aware of where we were going.”
Regarding Lanning and Dan Abnett’s run as a whole, Rosemann said, “When you sit down and read it all, if you go back to the initial, ‘Annihilation’ event, we focused on Peter Quill… and Rich Rider, and if you read all the way through to ‘Thanos Imperative,’ to their Butch and Sundance moment in a flash of light, you get a real nice character arc of these two buddies who have been on this trip together.”
Gerry Duggan, writer of the current, ‘Nova’ series, commented on what makes his character special in his eyes. “There’s a lot of wonderful opportunities in comics, but the one thing that is most precious to me is the inexperienced hero. When you write Captain America you have decades of experience, but Nova is a kid who doesn’t have a mentor who inherited his helmet quickly and is thrust into incredible situations and it’s an opportunity to see a young kid make mistakes. I was thrilled to go from, ‘Deadpool’ to something I can [give] to a younger audience.. My son is five, and I can read, ‘Nova’ to him… He loves Nova; he understands he’s not that far away from Sam Alexander. ”
Asked if the Annihilators will make a return, Rosemann gave a brief history of who the Annihilators were. “The goal was, when we were forming the books, we didn’t want to do the varsity, we didn’t want to do the Avengers. We wanted to do the underdogs, the scrappy outgunned freaks… We were doing Nova who was solo, like the Lone Ranger of space, and we wanted to do a group. So someone asked if we wanted to do the big guns, and I said no, ‘I like the freaks and geeks.’ That’s what I liked about, ‘Annihilation’ it was this rag tag crew of losers, and as Jim said, it was the more quirky characters you connect to. So I sat down one night with the ‘Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe,’ and I had them spread out on the floor with sticky notes and my wife comes in and asks what I’m doing. And I answer, ‘I’m building a cosmic team,’ and I hold up a page and say, ‘and this is going to be our star.’ And she says, ‘That’s a raccoon.’ And I say, “Yeah, it is!’ It’s a raccoon with a jet pack and a laser gun — what’s not cool about that?”
“So I went to my boss, Tom Brevoort, and I showed him my group, and it has Bug and all these crazy characters. I was trying to walk in the footsteps of, ‘Annihilation,’ trying to find all these under used characters and asking, ‘Remember how cool they are?’ Tom started laughing and said I had a character from each decade.. but I didn’t have anyone from the ’60s. So I tried to think who we had from the ’60s other the original Captain Mar-Vell, and Tom said, ‘What about the Kirby monsters?’ So I start looking through my monster book and I turn the page and there’s a walking tree. I said, ‘Every group needs a big guy, there’s our big guy.'”
This revelation of how Groot became a member of the Guardians was greeted with many “I am Groots” from the fans in attendance. “So I got a script in, and it’s Keith Giffen, and he has Rocket with a shit eating grin, shooting a machine gun. And the camera pulls back, and he’s in the palm of Groot. I asked Keith why he was putting them together, and he answered, ‘One’s a tree and one’s a raccoon — of course they’re going to be together.’
Tree and raccoon inspired tangent over, Rosemann went back to the Annihilators. “It was all the big guns, it was Beta Ray Bill, Silver Surfer, Quasar, a new Spaceknight named Ikon, it was cool and it was fun, there was a good response but people missed the underdogs.”
Asked what it’s like seeing a character a writer creates transform into something else in comics or other media, Starlin said, “Sometimes it’s nice, like Andy and his partner’s take on Thanos. I came in there expecting not much and I was pleasantly surprised. Other writers have come in and it was like they never read an old Thanos book. It’s a mixed bag. John Byrne said he never read any character after he leaves a book, which seems like a good idea, at least for a few years.”
Lanning added, “I love Nova so I keep going back and reading the stuff. Luckily, Gerry is a great writer and I still got stories in my head which won’t see the light of the day, if I were to write those, I would respect what Gerry has done and take my thing in a different direction.”
Duggan thanked Lanning, saying, “I do try to be respectful to what’s in the rear view, because you can break toys. The good news is, you could come back and tell those stories, and Sam isn’t always going to be the young kid. We’re talking Marvel Cosmic — who knows what will happen down the line.”
“We did our best, “Rosemann said regarding Darkhawk. “Each event we try to see who we can elevate. In ‘War of Kings,’ we said Darkhawk! He would look so cool in space. There was the story we found out Darkhawks were the Sith to the Novas Jedi. It’s out there, and the people that are working on the books now are looking at things… I hope they bring them back.”
“There’s a whole, ‘War of the Raptors’ story yet to be told,” Lanning pointed out.
The final question asked if the panel was excited to see the cosmic characters in other media, and Starlin answered for everyone with his reply. “It’s amazing! Comics have conquered the world!”
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